Brickyard Stories 2.0: A Lynn MA Neighborhood Before and After Urban Renewal, edited by Carl Carlsen

Brickyard stories 2.0: A Lynn MA Neighborhood Before and After Urban Renewal is the most engaging oral history I’ve read about a place since Studs Terkel’s Chicago (1986).

Both books go directly to the source – the citizens – when writing about cities. Carl Carlsen did not depend upon the local historians, nor did he rely on the preconceived notions of contemporary news hacks. He sought out the guy living in the tenement demolished when a car crashed into it and the Black woman who owned her own hair salon and retired in her early 60s. These people, not the pundits, experienced the drudgeries and triumphs of neighborhood living.
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My Year in Sister School: Part I, The Crime

IN WHICH I don a uniform but not the dogma

“Oh, you’ll find out. Boy, will you find out!”

This ominous statement, tossed my way by my cousin Sam during our final balmy picnic of summer, was half-warning and half-taunt. He’d approached me after the apple bobbing and said, “Hear you’re going to sister school next month.”

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Surrounded by Catholics: Part I, Blessings on Everything

“Now you’re getting older, your body’s starting to change,” said Dad. “Any questions?”
“How do you stop getting hard in church?” I asked.
“Don’t be ridiculous. That never happens.”
“I just heard . . . in school. Some of the guys . . .”
“It doesn’t happen if you’re Catholic. You know all about impure thoughts by now.”
“Yeah, but . . .”
“You just got confirmed for chrissake.”
“Not sayin’ it was me.”
“Then who? Better not be that Channing Johnstone character.”
“I’m just asking, what if it happens? What are you supposed to do?”
“You say a prayer or something.”
“What prayer?”
“Any prayer!”
“But what if some girl’s sitting in the next pew and . . . and looking real pretty . . . and things get out of hand and suddenly you gotta get up and take communion?”
“How the hell should I know? Ask Father Berube.”
–from “Questions I Tormented my Dad With”

IN WHICH we are truly blessed.

I never did ask Father John Berube that question, but not because I didn’t trust him. He was eminently trustworthy. Every Danvers Catholic kid I knew swore by what he said. About anything. The reason why was . . . complicated. Oh, so complicated.

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A Fish Tale

From “Questions I Tormented My Father With

“What’dya think Pete? Less than an hour and we caught a whole bucket of pickerel.”

“Yeah. All right, I guess.”

“All right? It’s been one after the other.”

“We’re done.”


“We’re fresh outta luck.”

“Only a minute since the last one.”

“Yeah, and the last one got off the hook and escaped.”


“So he’ll tell the others to watch out. Bye bye fish.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“We’re all done. Might’s well go home.”

“A quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”

“A quitter gets to watch Captain Midnight.”

“Don’t be a wise guy.”

“Do fish go south like birds?”

“No! And you know they can’t talk, right?”

“Whales squeal to each other.”

“Who told you that?”

Sea Hunt.”

“These pickerel can’t resist our tasty sea worms.”

“Who knows what they been eating? They don’t look right.”

“Now you’re skating on thin ice.”

“No ice here. If we were ice-fishing, we’d need an auger for the hole and a fish house.”

“We’ll quit when I catch the next one.”

“When’s that gonna be?”

“Few more minutes.”

“Already been a few more minutes.”

“Shut up! You’re scaring the fish.”

93-year-old Woman Nabbed for Impersonating Glenn Gould

It’s not often that a wondrously bizarre story drops into your lap.

But when it does, I believe it must get told, and as soon as possible. Have you ever heard of News of the Weird, that syndicated email column begun in the late 80s? It supplies digests of outlandish stories that happened the previous week, like a woman canceling her marriage to a ghost because it “kept disappearing.” Well, this is one of those stories. And it happened to me.

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Dealing with Trump

Joe Biden’s all wrong when it comes to dealing with Donald Trump.

I’m feeling insecure these days. I’m not sure Joe Biden knows how to handle Donald Trump in the current race for the presidency.

Early last August, Trump was speaking in Clyde, Ohio.

He said this about Biden: “He’s following the radical left agenda. Take away your guns, destroy your 2nd Amendment, no religion, no anything, hurt the Bible, hurt God. He’s against God.”

Biden’s response: “For President Trump to attack my faith is shameful.” Well of course it was! That was the point. Maybe what Biden should’ve said was, “My faith is my own private business. Like President Kennedy, I believe in the separation of church and state.”

My advice to Joe: spent some time watching reruns of Andy’s Gang, a children’s show that ran from 1955 to 1960. It featured an impish puppet called Froggy the Gremlin. Here is a memorable episode.

Froggy was disparaging bunny rabbits. Andy was appalled.

ANDY: You shouldn’t say that about cute bunny rabbits. They’re so nice.

FROGGY: Well, one way to settle that. You see that picture of water over there?

ANDY: Yes, a nice frosty pitcher of ice water.

FROGGY: Go over to the pitcher. (ANDY does so.) Grab the pitcher tightly by the handle.

ANDY: (bewitched) What next, Froggy?

FROGGY: I want you to pour the water all over your head.

ANDY: Pour the water all over my head. (He does so, then snaps out of it.) Awwww Froggy! You got me all wet!

FROGGY: (bounces around on his perch) Haw haw haw! There’s your answer! Haw haw haw!

Don’t play in Trump’s sandbox, Joe. Remember who you’re dealing with.

Best Friend

Had I known I’d be writing about Steve, my first adolescent friend, I would have carried my Brownie Hawkeye camera around with me more.

IN WHICH I learn that friendship is more complicated than enemyship.

I’ve never been friends with anyone in the same way I was with Steve Demetrious. It was one of those “more than” relationships. We were more than schoolmates, more than movie companions, more than teammates, more than confidants.